Martin Luther King was a seriously flawed man. The plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation, the adulteries, the blurring of his Civil Rights mission and his dalliance with various leftist causes in his latter years — these were and are unfortunate. In this respect, he reminds me of the Jaredite king Morianton, in the Book of Mormon: “And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms” (Ether 10:11).
That said, he was also a man of remarkable bravery, and he paid for it with his life at the hands of a much lesser human being (possibly but not certainly James Earl Ray). And he was stunningly eloquent, delivering powerful, biblically-cadenced speeches that moved millions, and that still move me. (Barack Obama’s vaunted oratorical skills pale into insignificance alongside Dr. King’s, and, unlike Dr. King’s, the content of Mr. Obama’s speeches, when not confused, is very often vacuous.)
As a quasi-libertarian, I have reservations about the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, to say nothing of quotas and affirmative action. I believe that people have the right to be stupid, and even, within very broad legal limits, to be morally misguided. For example, I think people should be able to rent or not to rent, to sell or not to sell, for any reasons they choose, including very bad ones. Which means that I believe people have the right to refuse service to blacks, Irish, Jews, Catholics, and/or, yes, Mormons. (My hope would be that the market would eventually discipline such moral obtuseness, since Catholic money and Mormon money and blacks’ money is, equally, money, and since, in a competitive economy, people who turn down the money of whole large groups and alienate large sectors of their potential market will, in the long term, lose or at least marginalize themselves. But even if they survive and prosper, and even in the short term, they have that right.)
But that said, again, as a quasi-libertarian I think it obscene and immoral that governments supported segregation and Jim Crow laws. I support freedom of association, freedom of economic transaction, free exchange. Freedom. I’m glad that those laws have all been overturned. The government has utterly no business discriminating among its citizens on the basis of ethnicity or religious faith.
Moreover, I’m pleased that America is far less overtly racist — and, I think it manifestly obvious, flatly far less racist — than it was sixty years ago and more. I’m pleased (it’s the only substantial thing about his presidency that pleases me) that America has broken the color barrier in electing a black president. (Well, 50% black, anyway.)
I honor Martin Luther King for his role in effecting that change. He was flawed, yes. But so are we all. I honor him for his moral courage, and for the way that he brought a massive wrong to the awareness of the nation and worked upon the national conscience to right it. As, now, an official geezer, I marvel at what Dr. King was able to achieve and the mark he was able to leave behind, before his death at thirty-nine.
My parents had a close friend, a wonderful man in many regards who went out of his way to do kind things for them and for others. He could be counted on, always, and under even the most difficult circumstances, to be loyal. But he was a disloyal husband, cheating on his wife time and time again.
I’m glad that it’s not my role to judge such people. Instead, I trust in a merciful God. He’s my only hope.